Finally, a realistic action movie that shows the sobering and traumatic impact of gun violence… oh sorry, that was the intro for my “RoboCop” review.
Standing in stark relief against the grim and brutally economical “Bourne Ultimatum” is “Shoot ‘Em Up,” a movie that delivers all that its title implies, and little else. Clive Owen plays our hero, the carrot-munching Mr. Smith, a mysterious vagrant with prodigious skill in firearms. Smith unwillingly finds himself shepherding an orphaned infant through a gauntlet of gun-toting thugs, led by the cheerfully despicable Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti). Joining Smith on his quest ludicrous is Donna (Monica Bellucci), a prostitute with some prodigious talents of her own.
Writer/director Michael Davis obviously loved his cartoons as a boy, and he infuses the thoroughly ridiculous “Shoot ‘Em Up” with gags and action sequences that will be familiar to even the most casual of Wile E. Coyote fans. And that’s not including Smith’s beta-carotene addiction or the fact that Hertz’s cell phone plays Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” (the “kill the wabbbit” song). Indeed, the entire movie can be seen to exist on the comic ultraviolence spectrum that began with Bugs and Elmer’s arms race from “The Rabbit of Seville” and ended with the apocalyptic final confrontation in Takashi Miike’s “Dead or Alive.”
Davis also gives lip service to his affection for movies like John Woo’s “The Killer” and “Hard Boiled,” but he has two problems: he can’t even begin to mimic Woo’s ability to effortlessly capture scenes of acrobatic gunplay, and he fails to grasp that Woo always played it straight. Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung were never known for uttering groaning one-liners about buckling up (after sailing through a couple of windshields) or eating your vegetables.
Though to be fair, none of them ever killed a guy with a carrot like Smith does.
“Shoot ‘Em Up” goes entirely in the other direction, as there’s barely a moment in the entire movie that can be taken seriously. The bad guys’ aim is so consistently terrible I suspect they’re the product of a drunken tryst between Dick Cheney and a stormtrooper, the plot – some nonsense involving bone marrow harvesting – is too thin to even flesh out an episode of “Jake and the Fatman,” and the entire thing takes place in some mystical realm where physics conform not to Newtonian laws, but those of Dr. Seuss.
The humor works best when it sticks to the perverse. Smith has an invigorating lack of concern for his young charge’s welfare, leaving the child next to a toilet while shooting it out in a restroom and firing large caliber handguns so close to the kid’s head deafness – if not massive cranial hemorrhaging – is virtually assured. Giamatti, for his part, is clearly enjoying himself. Not many Alexander Payne screenplays call for him to grope a dead woman’s breast or fire a sniper rifle at an infant, after all. Owen manages by offering what is essentially “Sin City’s” Dwight with shittier clothes, worse skin, and a junior high joke book.
Bellucci is another matter. Sure, her performance is perfectly acceptable for the task at hand, but as someone who’s rewatched certain scenes from “Malena” enough times to prompt Vincent Cassel to come kick my a*s, I have to wonder when Bellucci became so coy as to deny us even a brief glimpse of her magnificent nakedness. Her storied gunfight/sex scene with Owen is droll, but strangely unsatisfying.
“Shoot ‘Em Up” is intermittently amusing, and is – admittedly – a bit much, but those expecting insanity of the “sharing a sheet of blotter acid with Gary Busey while watching a Jodorowsky marathon” variety will be disappointed. Better just to stick with Miike.